Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

"There Will Always Be People Passionate About Music in the Abstract and Imaginative Sense," Slim Twig's Literary Influences

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"There Will Always Be People Passionate About Music in the Abstract and Imaginative Sense," Slim Twig's Literary Influences

In 2012 my record label, Pleasence Records, co-released Slim Twig’s conceptual baroque-rock album, A Hound at the Hem (later reissued on DFA), along with his own label, Calico Corp. String arrangements by Owen Pallett and Slim Twig’s fondness of harpsichord give the album a grandiose atmosphere that evokes the orchestration of The Zombies and Serge Gainsbourg. Lyrically, the album was inspired by Nabokov’s Lolita and explores themes of intrusion and disturbance. Musicians are rarely asked about their literary influences, so I wanted to dig deeper and find out more about how Lolita influenced A Hound at the Hem.

James Lindsay: What was it that first drew you to start working with Lolita as source material for A Hound at the Hem?

Slim Twig: The book made a deep impression on me as a teen, it was something that stuck around in my mind. When I first started thinking about making a new album in 2010, I knew that I wanted to make something narrative. An album where the songs communicated with each other, linking together to form a story longer than what a single song is able to provide. Having said that, I was a little intimidated at the idea of creating this narrative out of whole cloth. I liked the idea of having an existing framework that I could build out from - a pattern for a novice tailor.

Lolita shared a number of themes I wanted to explore. The readymade dynamic between a mother, daughter and an intruder was something I felt I could write about. The character of the intruder was something I was compelled by at the time, and lined up with a kind of persona I had written from previously. All of this, along with the fact that one of my heroes, Serge Gainsbourg, had already made an album making good use of the literary reference, dovetailed into something I felt able to produce and was happy with the result of.

JL: Do you see the album as having a direct narrative that follows the intruder character, or is a looser concept than that?

ST: There is a direct, linear narrative, but I'm hesitant to say that it exists as explicitly as stories do in other traditionally narrative mediums (movies, books, etc). Each song is a little vignette, from the perspective of this intruding character.

The challenge of a narrative album as I see it, is to have songs that can be strung together upon close inspection but that can remain broad enough to speak to larger themes, or whatever agenda the listener might bring to the music if isolated.

JL: It's interesting that the concept album is historically so popular in pop music. There seems to be a type of musician who is drawn to the novel-like mode of story telling rather than the traditional single format, which is more like short story or poem. Because of the rise of streaming and downloading as the most prevalent ways people get their music, we're at a time that is returning to something like the single format: consumers choosing only the songs they want to hear. Do you think people are loosing their attention spans for long-form musical statements?

ST: I disagree that we've entered into a new glory era for the single. To my eye, the Internet has thrust meme-generation, or personal branding (more broadly) as the dominant format. What artists are seeking is traction on social media and cultural content-farming websites. This formula has displaced an emphasis on putting together quality songs, let alone albums or concept albums. Press photos and flashy videos are a more expedient way of promoting this brand-energy than albums are. Consequently I don't think most music consumers care how an album is put together, or whether it has a narrative, emotional or original payoff.

I think there will always be people passionate about music in the abstract and imaginative sense that a concept album requires, but it's destined to be more of a niche interest contemporarily akin to poetry or novel reading. So yes, I think people on the whole have lost their appetite for this kind of work holding broad cultural relevance, but there will always be classicist contrarians that insist that an album is the 'proper' way to deliver/consume a musical statement.

JL: Other than Nabokov, who are some authors that have influenced your music?

ST: Child of God by Cormac McCarthy & And the Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave were both significant influences for me when I first started writing lyrics and songs.

I recently discovered Clarice Lispector and have been really savouring her Collected Stories. It would be cool to try and turn some of her ideas into songs...

The rigour that an author has to apply in order to be any good is something that I find really inspirational. I think this sets it apart from music, in that a lot of really good bands only practice once a month or write songs on the fly. I'm obviously not on that authorial level, but it's something I'd like to aspire to.

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The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

James Lindsay

James Lindsay has been a bookseller for more than a decade. He is also co-owner of Pleasence Records in Toronto, a record label specializing in post-punk, odd-pop and avant-garde sound pieces.He is the author of the poetry collection Our Inland Sea (Wolsak & Wynn).

You can write to James throughout April at writer@openbooktoronto.com

Go to James Lindsay’s Author Page